Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The 80/20 rule.

One of the things I've noticed through the years is that there are many more things to be done in agencies than there were, say, 30 years ago.

Maybe this change is due to my ability to "get things done," maybe it's related to my hands-on-ness, maybe to my seniority. Or maybe it's instead a function of the mind-numbing, soul-sapping complexity we've allowed into what should be a simple business.

Today it seems we have a million dumb little things that take up our entire day. They can consume us. Ruin our lives and our careers.

As I learned years ago, the trick to being a good creative is this. Spend 20% of your time doing the 80% of the crap you've got to do. Spend 80% of your time doing the 20% that matters.


Yesterday my friend Rich Siegel celebrated both his birthday and the third anniversary of his wonderful, funny and occasionally caustic blog "Round 17."

His post got me thinking about the act of blogging, or writing such as it is.

Since I was a young boy, I've always wanted to be a writer. I've always regarded the profession of writing whether it's allied to academia, journalism, publishing or even advertising as something to aspire to. I've always admired writers, usually finding a writer I like and going through his or her opus like a fat kid through a cake.

Writing, for me, is not something I merely want to do, it's something I have to do. Blogging has helped me with this.

I try to write at least once a day. I feel uncomfortable if I have no ideas for my blog. (Usually when I have no ideas, I write a post like this one. Or I write about some conversation I've had with my Uncle Slappy.) If the morning slips by and I haven't posted I feel real and palpable angst.

I am glad and pleased that Ad Aged has gained its small audience.  But I write primarily for myself. I don't post my posts to my LinkedIn or Facebook. There's nothing wrong with doing so, but it's just not me. I am too shy and am loathe to self-promote. It's just not what I do.

Also over the years I've "met" a few other bloggers (Rich Siegel is one of them.) These are guys with their own blogs. They are people whose writing I respect. People I respect. I keep them in mind when I write. I think it helps keep my standards high.

I have written over 2,700 posts at this point. Some are throwaways, jokes or attempts at funny observations. Some, I like to think, are more thoughtful and intelligent.

My favorite thing about blogging, however, is perhaps the most obvious. Writing as I do, everyday, has simply made me a better writer. I practice writing everyday and because I treat the writing on Ad Aged journalistically, I write fast and most often "publish" my first drafts.

That's all for now.

And if you're reading this, thank you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Last Sunday I left Manhattan for a few hours to revel in the pleasures of either the Bronx or Brooklyn, I forget which. Today is a perfect pre-Spring day in Manhattan. You can almost hear the horsehide hitting the leather gloves of baseball players. The air smells good and the sun reflecting off the glimmering rats is nearly blinding.

It would be an exaggeration to say I've been all over the world, but I've seen a fair share of it. I always come back to Manhattan. My "isle of joy."

The video above is Ella. And it mentions my place of birth. Good ol' Yonkers, NY.

Tumors, boils, goiters, warts.

What I think of when I hear the title "Chief Growth Officer."

Speak English.

I've told this story before but during the last few days I've been sitting in new business meetings and, accordingly, I am somewhat at the end of my already foreshortened tether.

The modern advertising agency is much more complex than agencies were 30 or so years ago when I first fired up my IBM Selectric. As media channels have proliferated so have vertical experts. Also, technology has inserted itself as a key component of many marketing messages--whether or not that technology has a bearing on the consumers that use it.

The result of all these changes is that English--pure, simple, comprehensible is as endangered as Darwinists in the Republican party.

Here's the part I'm repeating (and will keep repeating.) When Ogilvy promoted Steve Hayden (the writer of Apple's "1984" there was an article about it in "The Wall Street Journal." I consider Steve my mentor, so I read the article carefully and took it to heart. Ogilvy Chairman Shelley Lazurus was quoted in the article. She said, "Steve never speaks in jargon."

As a writer, as a communicator, I took that as a brief. I know the power of language to alienate readers or viewers. I've always hated when writers insert a phrase in French to show how smart they are. I know how compelling simple can be.

I'm afraid it's lost on most people.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Some thoughts on awards from Ingmar Bergman.

The language is a bit tortured but the point is clear.

"As "Wild Strawberries" didn't compete for "OSCAR" I think it is wrong to nominate the picture and therefor {SIC} I want to return the "CERTIFICATE OF NOMINATION."

"I have found, that the "OSCAR"-nomination is one for the motion picture art humiliating institution and ask you to be released from the attention of the jury for the future.


The organization.

This post could be titled "Why it takes 39-weeks to produce a TV commercial or 84 weeks to update a website."

One of the things you learn if you've been in the business a long time--or if you read histories and biographies--is that most organizations, whether they're businesses, armies, political entities, families or academic in nature, create infrastructures that often surpass in power the nominal head of the organization and, just as often, threaten the very viability of the organization.

In short infrastructures are often consumed by infrastructure.

It doesn't take a genius to see this in everyday life. Just visit the post office, that is, if you can. Most are open only from 9-5, making it nearly impossible to mail a package unless you're willing to invest a large portion of your lunch hour or Saturday to do so. The same used to hold true of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 30 years ago all the guys trained at fixing train air-conditioners had gained so much seniority that they were able to take off large swaths of time during the summer.

Of course agencies and clients follow the same, predictable, road to ruin. The organization, most often, runs the agency. The agency doesn't run the organization.

In my career I have twice risen to lead agencies--each time I did so as an out-of-towner. Once in San Francisco and once in Boston.

In each of those cities and in each of those agencies it took me about 38 seconds to analyze the source of their burgeoning ossification. I worked hard to chip away at it. But the people who maintained the status quo ultimately won. They knew they could hunker down, hide beneath their desks, appoint committees, find high-ups also interested in preserving the status quo and by those means could stop things from ever changing.

I'm not sure if there's any way an agency or a client can stop calcification from paralyzing the activeness of the organization.

I do know that that which is suppose to serve the ends of the organization has become itself an end.

Preservation has overwhelmed innovation.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brooklyn, visited.

We traveled out to Brooklyn today--something I do roughly every year or so, this time to see Kevin Spacey in Sam Mendes' production of Shakespeare's "Richard III."

It seems the whole world, everyone under 40 in my office has moved to Brooklyn and, since I have no intention of ever leaving Manhattan, I was afraid lest Brooklyn is as great and as cool and with it as the hepcats who inhabit my workspace claim it is.

Truth be told I wasn't in Brooklyn long enough to form an opinion. And the neighborhood around the Brooklyn Academy of Music is still pretty horrid, though way better than it was five years ago. We did walk to the Williamsburg Savings Bank and breeze through the junk fair--which is graciously called a flea market and we gaped at the mosaic ceilings and architectural detail.

The play itself was ok. Spacey was uneven. I wasn't enjoying it at all until he bellowed near the end "A horse. A horse. My kingdom for a horse."

Anyway, here are three pictures I snapped of Brooklyn. Long may she wave.

I am a moron.

A dear friend of mine sent me, belatedly, a birthday gift--a faux-velvet-clad box set of 13 Tony Bennett CDs. I had mentioned to her--and to inveterate readers of this blog that I had heard Bennett singing on a previously un-issued V-Disk, a rendition of "St. James Infirmary," one of my favorite songs of all time. I had never been a great fan of Bennett's, more because there were others I liked more but when this gift arrived yesterday, I was looking forward to finding the time to listen.

When I was an adolescent I started doing very badly in the elite private school I had been sentenced to. I had completely stopped caring about grades, was bored with school and stopped doing any reading at all, much less studying. The school showed their concern not by talking to me about what was wrong but by making me take a series of IQ tests to see if I had gotten in by mistake.

Not to boast but I did so well on the first IQ test they gave me, scoring in the top .1% that they made me take the test again where I duplicated my prior score.

40 years ago, I was tested and proven not to be a moron.

Today, however, as I tried to unopen the CD box set, I was proved otherwise. It was oh-so-well-designed. It had little grosgrain tabs that indicated when I should pull. Which I did. Only to rip apart the cardboard container.

I was outsmarted by the designers of the box.

Which, to me, was a metaphor.

So much of contemporary design is fluffy, gratuitous and deleterious to usability. It "looks great" in a lab of like-minded designers, but in the real world (and I include New York City as part of that world) it is inscrutable and interfering.

I'm sure in the scheme of things my Tony Bennett box set will win a design award or two. It was probably beautiful on the shelf.

But design, at least to my moronic mind has a functional aspect as well or else it is just decoration.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Since America began about 250 years ago, the nation has always been riven. Early on the Puritans clashed with seculars. Then, of course, we had a great Civil War that pitted the North against the South. Today, we have Red states vs. Blue, which, I hate to say it, is merely a continuation of Civil War battle lines.

I read an article this morning in "The New York Times" about the airline KLM allowing people to pick their seats according to the LinkedIn and Facebook profiles of their fellow travelers. This is hailed by airline "spokespeople" (presumably they are called spokespeople because if you met them you would want to lance their eyes with a bicycle spoke) as a great way to make flying better, more enjoyable and more suitable to contemporary tastes. The program by the way is called "Meet and Seat." 

Last night I watched the Knick's sensation Jeremy Lin get crushed by the Big Three of the Miami Heat. Naturally, I saw about three minutes worth of basketball and 27 minutes of commercials. Most of them consisted of impossibly pretty, impossibly fit and impossibly smiley young people dancing and screaming with joy over their 4G connection or a chemically-enhanced cheeseburger.

There was not a single ad, not a single marketing effort that made any appeal whatsoever to me. I am not a Luddite. God knows, I am not the Dalai Lama. While I don't pine for a great deal of consumer goods, like most people there are things I want.

But I am as different from the people marketers and politicians are marketing to as I can imagine. It's as if I'm from a different planet. Oh, I know, I live in New York and New York is a bubble. 

Listen, marketers.

This bubble I live in is fairly large and is very affluent. Inside this bubble people do not find the crotch jokes and organ grinding that predominates in entertainment entertaining. We do not crave 99-cent tacos stuffed to the genetically-modified gills with hormone-injected cattle-product.

To paraphrase David Ogilvy, "the consumer isn't a moron..." We're just treated that way.

What's more, the logarithms that rule our online lives treat us like morons as well. They assume because my doctoral-student daughter sent me an email last night about getting an advanced assessment certification that I might want to be a dental hygienist or a nurse practitioner.  It doesn't take a Svengali to see through the targetting apparatus that sends you such ads. The effect on me is just that it pisses me off.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Roughly 150 years ago, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham helped formulate an ethical theory that came to be known as "Utilitarianism." Of course Utilitarianism is more complicated that this, but I always synthesized its principle down to a simple epithet: Utilitarianism is "doing the greatest good for the greatest number."

Doing the greatest good for the greatest number is a notion that is lost on most marketers and agencies today. It seems we spend the bulk of our hours creating "experiences" few people will ever experience, ads no one ever sees, 'one to one' communications that reach no one and the like.

This we call "integration." Or a "channel strategy."

The question of doing the greatest marketing good to the greatest number is a calculus that is seldom considered. Instead, to paraphrase the Ad Contrarian, marketers believe they'll be regarded as suckers if they think "they're missing a trend."

In short, a channel strategy shouldn't be about optimizing the dozens of channels that can possibly reach consumers if the Earth slants an additional degree. A channel strategy should instead be about optimizing the channels you ultimately choose to use.

Lessons from Rome.

You can learn a lot I think about life in an advertising agency from reading the history of the politics and intrigues that went on when Rome was no longer a Republic and was ruled by an emperor.

I'm not talking about the lavish lunches where we gorge ourselves on hummingbird tongues and braised dormice. I'm speaking of the machinations, the sabotage and the murders that happen near and at the top.

Right now I'm reading a book by a really stellar Classicist called Philip Matyszak. Matyszak has written a number of eminently readable (and funny) books about the ancient world, including "Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day" a travel guide to Rome of 2,000 years ago and "Legionary: The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual." If you like your history made visceral, Matyszak is well-worth checking into.

Right now I'm reading his latest book, "Imperial General: The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis."

What Matyszak makes abundantly clear is that being high of the totem pole (or stelae) in Rome was basically a death sentence. Many if not most emperors were assassinated, if not by rival politicos then by covetous family members. Few lived to die a natural death. Further, if you were a general and had command of your legions, you had a perilous line to toe. If you were unpopular your men would kill you. If you were too popular you would be regarded as a threat to the emperor and, therefore, assassinatable.

In our tiny industry we bewail and rend our garments about a lot of things. Chief Creative Officers come and go--one moment they're hailed as saviors and the next, of course, they're out on their ears. The same with CMOs. Also subject to untimely death are those perceived as threats or allies to the "Cs."

Agencies and Clients are meat grinders and none of us are far from becoming hamburger.

But back to Petellius. He had the extraordinary ability to be close and distant at the same time. Close to power but distant from it. When trouble brewed in Rome, when it seemed like around every corner there was a sword with his name on it, he was able to meld into the country-side, to disappear himself before someone 'disappeared' him.

Petellius-ness is rampant in agency life, too.

I guess we call it 'survival.'

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


This morning I had a bowl of Raisin Bran Crunch for breakfast. It's a good cereal as far as I'm concerned, slightly too sugary but it's rife with raisins and clusters of whole oats.

Because the paper hadn't arrived yet, I turned my ever-watchful eyes to the copy on the cereal box and read these words: "Plump, juicy raisins..."

They set my head spinning to life in Clientville.

Client 1: "We need to finalize the copy on the Raisin Bran Crunch box."

Client 2: "I have it right here from the agency. 'Plump raisins.'"

Client 3: "I don't think that sounds appetizing enough."

Client 4: "I don't think that copy paints a picture of the raisin's 'mouth-feel.'"

Client 5: "I really like the word 'plump.'"

Client 6: "I don't it rhymes with 'dump'"

Client 7: "I think 'plump' is fine, but we need another modifier. Plump isn't enough."

Client 8: "How about tasty?"

Client 9: "No, tasty is bland. We need something tastier."

Client 10: "How about delicious?"

Client 11: "Delicious is a good word but it's kinda long. Kids read these boxes and might not understand it."

Client 12: "Good point. 'Yummy'?"

Client 13:  "It won't translate."

Client 14: "How about 'juicy.'?

Client 15: "I like that 'plump, juicy raisins.'"

Client 16: 'Plump, juicy raisins.' That sings.

Client 1: "All agreed?"

Client 2: "Let's put that into testing."

Somehow the line "Plump, juicy raisins" survived testing and myriad client discussions. It probably went up to the CEO of the cereal company and maybe even to his wife. This morning, it landed on my breakfast table.

As my old boss used to say, "Here's the thing:"

Here's the thing.

Raisins are a dried fruit.

By definition they can't be juicy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oatmeal. And advertising.

Like many people my wife and I make oatmeal for breakfast, not the super processed "Quick" oats that respond in a flash to boiling water, and not some fancy-schmancy steel-cut oat imported from free range farms that are managed by artisinal oat farmers. Just normal Quaker original oats "Old Fashioned" in the large drum with the Quaker on the front. Oats are a pretty utilitarian breakfast, hot, healthy and filling and neither of us have to get all Park Slope about them. The oats we ate as children are good enough for us as oldsters.

This morning I noticed something about life because of the way my wife cooks the oatmeal as opposed to the way I cook oatmeal.

My wife looks at the recipe, measures the ingredients out and sets a timer to the time the box tells her to set. Nothing wrong with that.

I, on the other hand, measure things by eye-sight and boil, stir and mix accordingly.

No offense to my wife, often times when she follows the recipe exactly her oatmeal comes out like shit. It lumps and clumps like the oatey-equivalent of a cement dust-bunny. When I upbraid her about this, her response is invariably the same: "I followed the recipe. I set the timer."

It seems to me that there are similarly two types of practitioners in the advertising business.

There are the "recipe-followers" and the "eye-sighters."

The recipe-followers adhere to a prescription. A timeline. A set of best-practices. When all those planets align according to their dicta, we fold our tents and pronounce our work done. Qualitative concerns are of secondary importance. The scope is met. The work is complete.

The eye-sighters put their hands in the batter. Or their spoon in the oatmeal. They mix, they add, they experiment. They spend more time in front of the concoction. They don't watch a clock. They mind their mind. The "food" is cooked when it is done to their satisfaction.

Obviously, I think our business is better when it is run by eye-sighters.

Unfortunately, most holding companies follow recipes.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Aunt Sylvie.

I've known Aunt Sylvie, Uncle Slappy's wife of 57 years, for my entire life. She is a wonderful woman. Warm, an amazing cook--who at the age of 86 still gets around the kitchen, energetic and, most important, and eminently tolerant woman, as you'd expect from someone who has lived with Slappy for so long.

Aunt Sylvie, I'm told, was quite a "looker" in her youth. She can still turn a head or two at the community center pool in the gated community she and Slappy live in down in Boca. She dresses, and always has, to the nines, as they say, and in all the years I've spent near Aunt Sylvie I don't think I've ever seen her without makeup, unaccessorized and not well put together.

She would as soon go out of the house in a pair of sweatpants and bedroom slippers as Uncle Slappy would go deer hunting. It will never happen.

Through the years I've grown closer to Uncle Slappy. He's filled in for my father in many real and substantial ways. While I love Aunt Sylvie like the mother I never had, I am just not as close to her as I am to Slappy. Of course I care about her. We have great talks together and until she had to give it up a couple years ago, we'd often hit the ball together on the courts not far from her unit in Boca.

A couple months ago, my cousin Tillie called--the one married to the gastroenterologist in Ft. Lauderdale. Aunt Sylvie, who's barely ever left the house not wearing at least 3-inch heels had taken a tumble. The orthopaedist said this is no joke. At her age a fall could lead to a broken hip which could lead to a coffin.

Cousin Tillie arranged it. I would fly down. Tillie would pick me up. We'd drive to Sylvie and Slappy and conduct a high-heel intervention, replacing all of Sylvie's shoes once and for all.

We did it--with Sylvie kicking and screaming. But now she's wearing flats. And like anyone in "recovery," ever-so-slowly adjusting.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Efficiency and friction.

Since the beginning of mankind some 200,000 years ago (or 6,000 years ago if you are a radical-right Republican like the current front-runner Rick Santorum) humanity has been on a quest for efficiency.

Our prognathous ancestors found, probably over the course of a couple millennia that it was more efficient to kill animals with a spear than with a blunt instrument, a club or a rock. So spears became all the rage. Likewise, wind-power was harnessed as being superior to rowing. Cattle were domesticated, and equines. Agriculture flourished, then machines, then computers all in an endless quest for every greater efficiency.

The opposite, I'm told, of efficiency is friction. When friction, in whatever form is overcome, efficiency is gained.

But the trick with attaining ever-greater levels of efficiency, like the trick with all things is stopping before efficiency gets out of hand. A good example of this is our modern notion of highway speed limits. It would be more efficient in terms of getting from point A to point B to let cars travel at they 140 miles-per-hour they are capable of. However, the rise in accidents (in this case the friction of crashes and pile-ups) out-weighs the gains.

What's happened in our industry, whatever you want to call it, Advertising, Marketing, Marketing Services, Story-telling, Product development, and what's happened in the world as we struggle through the fourth year of the Great Depression 2.0 is that efficiency has outstripped friction in huge and fundamental ways.

We can strip factories of their employees, strip the Earth of its sustaining force, strip entire swaths of entire continents and entire populations of their humanity to produce things faster, cheaper and better than ever before in the history of our planet. There has been no friction--ecological or environmental friction, rights of man friction, or simple common sense friction that has slowed our Adam Smith-ean vector toward the perfect, most highly-efficient capitalist system.

In our business specifically, we have seen the "mature" and more-highly-paid wrung from our midst. We have seen off-shoring. We have seen the disappearance of downtime. The withering away for production dollars all in the name of holding company efficiency.

The friction that used to be encouraged in agencies--the time to do a proper job, a gentle treatment of the people doing the work (not just people working in holding companies) and acceptance of extreme and sometimes volatile personalities has largely disintegrated. Now we are hourly employees and earn accolades for time-sheet compliance and even-keelness not the integrity of our product.

This is a lot, I know, for a Friday. Especially a Friday before a long, efficient weekend (a made up holiday--a sop to the working poor).

So, I'll stop now.

Writing this blog isn't at all efficient.

Poetry corner, Part II.

By Carl Sandburg.


I ASKED the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
their women and children and a keg of beer and an

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A short call from Uncle Slappy.

My house phone was calling when I got home tonight. The only people who call me on a landline are telemarketers, politicians (who are even a lower order of species than telemarketer) and Uncle Slappy, who is the apotheosis of humanity. It was, of course, Slappy.

I make fun of Slappy in this space. But I love him, for all his quirks, idiosyncrasies, all his nonsense, all his insults and barbs. Tonight he called with some Slappified nonsense.

"Shmendrick," he said when I picked up the phone. "They just opened up in Boca, you should excuse the expression, a combination bagel shop and travel agency."

"What's it called," Uncle Slappy, I said, readying myself for what was coming.

"From schmear to eternity."

And he hung up.

Neophilia and the modern advertising agency.

It wasn't long ago that most large traditional agencies were asleep at the wheel or, worse, simply in denial when it came to work that didn't involve print, broadcast, outdoor or radio. As computers and the internet became mass--this has only happened in the past ten years--a host of new digitally-minded agencies sprung to life. They would fill the void created by the blind pig-headedness of traditional agencies.

What happened at the most macro level, in short, was this. The agency "landscape" was occupied by a Manichean struggle between two forces: the old pitted against the new. Manichean, of course, was a religion back some centuries ago that saw that the world was a constant winner-take-all struggle between the forces of absolute light and absolute darkness. There were no shades of gray. Or even Grey. And most agencies, too, adopted this world view. They either embraced traditional as a shibboleth or hung their fedoras on new media.

The language adopted by each side was in many cases vicious. Traditionalists disparaged Digitals as "tools and tactics." And Digitals lashed back with the oh-so-familiar epithet "_________________ is dead."

In fact when, belatedly, some Digitals became leaders in newly integrated agencies--agencies that still derived millions in revenue from traditional media, they would nevertheless continue issuing proclamations stating that, for instance, "television is dead."

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

The black and white struggle between old and new spilled over into every aspect of the advertising industry. Almost overnight "new" "channels" were suddenly valued in the billions. We were told they were on the cusp (always on the cusp) of changing everything. Awards shows extolled ads of dubious merit simply because they did something no one had ever done before. Ignoring the notion that maybe they were never done because they made no sense.

New, neophilia, became an end in itself. The search wasn't for the new thing, it wasn't even, in the words of Michael Lewis a search for the new, new thing. It was rather a quest for the new new new new new new thing.

And old, as in the old people who control 77% of the spending power in the United States were ignored or even worse, excoriated.

The language in the industry became barbed and vitriolic. The middle ground became elusive or no man's land. The world became an all or nothing proposition a world of absolutes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The past and prologues.

Yesterday two things happened to me.

1. I had about two hours on the phone and in-person with various people who work in media.
2. I discovered and perseverated upon the concept of neophilia. The free-floating exaltation of all things new to the detriment of depth, focus and past precedence.

My discussions with media were not fruitful. I was arguing, not for any specific channel, but for the concept of fewer insertions each with greater impact. I tried about eleven-teen ways of explaining what I thought was a fairly simple idea. I'd rather have 12 large insertions than 71 small space ones.

Finally, exasperated I remembered something decalled either on the walls of the old Ogilvy HQ on 8th Avenue or imprinted in our frontal lobes at Ally & Gargano, I forget which.

"Small companies run small ads."

I tried that out on the media folks. But apparently they were thinking instead about the next free hockey game a rep was taking them to.

All this made me think of, of course, neophilia.

The new, the now, the au courant is not bad. But it is bad to eschew all that has come before. Because some of what is old is precious. It's that simple.

The tragedy of our species is that we never learn from the past. We make the same mistakes in just about every human endeavor. We have no history. Was it Faulkner who wrote "The past is never dead. It's not even past"?

Oh, I know.

Who the hell is Faulkner.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Neophiliacs in Advertising.

John Tierney writes very intelligently for "The New York Times," primarily on health and science. I don't always love what he writes, but now and again he comes across with something big and seismic, something that in its own way explains the behavior of large swaths of humanity. It's rare and to be cherished when you come across writing and thinking that has a world view.

Today, Tierney talked about a trait people are calling "neophilia." It means, simply, a love of novelty and change. A love of the new.

Psychologists have tracked neophiliacs and found that the hunt for new sensation has "genetic roots and relations to the brain’s dopamine system, they linked this trait with problems like attention deficit disorder, compulsive spending and gambling, alcoholism, drug abuse and criminal behavior."

Other psychologists demur. They believe that neophilia--when complemented by other traits--is a "crucial predictor of well-being."

In short, "if you combine this adventurousness and curiosity with persistence and a sense that it’s not all about you, then you get the kind of creativity that benefits society as a whole."

The Times continues: "We now consume about 100,000 words each day from various media, which is a whopping 350 percent increase, measured in bytes, over what we handled back in 1980. Neophilia spurs us to adjust and explore and create technology and art, but at the extreme it can fuel a chronic restlessnes and distraction.

"[Ms. Gallager] and Dr. Cloninger" (the researchers behind this work) "both advise neophiles to be selective in their targets. Don’t go wide and shallow into useless trivia...Use your neophilia to go deep into subjects that are important to you.” 

From an explicit advertising point of view, I happen to believe that most advertisers and certainly most agencies are afflicted with extreme cases of neophilia. A client I recently worked on delivers messages in something like 37 different channels. They have enough money to disseminate their message to the point where it is spread so thin it is virtually assured not to make an impact.

The explosion of media, channels and messaging has propagated, in short, "chronic restlessness and distraction."

If a visitor from another world came to me and asked me what a "brand" does, I would answer thusly: "A brand creates order. It supplies a cogent definition about values and a product to the consumer."

We are, ostensibly in the brand-building business. 

The neophiliacs amongst are in the brand diffusing business.

Mendacity, Part 38465057384040.

There is news in the "Times" and on National Public Radio that Apple, the name behind well-designed products built by slaves, is beginning to monitor its factories in China for humane working conditions. I'd bet my MacBook Pro that the following will happen. 1) investigators will "uncover" some violations and "fix" them; 2) they will do something large and showy like provide a recreation center, employee swimming pool or hot lunch or something like that; 3) they will affirm the basic goodness of their plants and assert that their workers are well-off--especially compared to those in other less-enlightened plants.

It wasn't that long ago that pseudo-humanitarians took a day or two off from wearing their $120 Nikes because labor in the Far East was getting fucked up the ass sideways.

Of course, after the flurry of "concern," this story got pushed off the airwaves by a cat that found its way home or a newly dead pop star.

In about a month, half of New York will be sporting something green and sparkly that came all the way from China, 15,000 miles and still costs just 99-cents. When the dust and the drunken vomit have cleared, you realize that the leprechaun hats, the cheap electronics and most else of what we avariciously consume is made cheaply because we can abuse the shit out of most of the world. And most of the world is happy to take the pennies left to them.

The same is happening in our industry and just about every other.

For us to turn a blind eye, or worse, express "high dudgeon" is the height (or depth) of mendacity.

Monday, February 13, 2012


One of the horrible lies, the o'erweening banalities of our fucking era is the notion that we should always be smiling, happy and pollyannish.

When we lose our jobs (which happens, inevitably) we're suppose to utter platitudes. We're supposed to tell people we're happy to get to re-invent ourselves. We're looking forward to new opportunities. We're ready to set sail across greener pastures and other simpering mixed metaphors.

We're not supposed to say we're worried about the loss of income. Stressed about eating up our retirement funds. Anxious about paying for the kids. No, we're supposed to reflect and say "It's the best thing that ever happened to me."

We are told via the Oprahization of the world that virtually any tragedy or disaster is something upon which we can look on the bright side. Someone we love dies and we find ourselves uttering meaningless phrases "at least they didn't suffer." Or "he's in a better place." Or "maybe it's for the best." As if you know any of those statements are true. "He'd want you to put this tragedy behind you," we lie. How the fuck do you know what he'd want?

Just now I was taking the E-train back from the client and I saw a bunch of dog-awful posters for a new Budweiser product called "Bud Platinum." One of the posters exclaimed: "Every hour should be happy."

I'm sorry.

Every hour should not be happy.

Some might be pensive.

Some annoyed (as I am now.)

Some might be horrified (as I am now.)

Some might be melancholy.

Who are all these people, where do they get off telling us that we should be happy all the time. If that's the case why don't we bag fluoride in our water and gallop straight to paxil, prozac and lithium.

If you know anything about happiness you know that it is not, cannot almost by definition be a perpetual state. When we were hunting animals with spears, the cohesion of the hunt force and the chase made us, as a species happy. As would bringing the kill back to our dependents. But those feelings are fleeting. In fact most people feel a sense of let down after the mammoth is slain.

Look, you want to make me happy?

Let me be sad.

Design. Not decoration.

Last month I saw a You Tube video of George Lois speaking before a design and art direction group in the UK. Lois, as you would expect, excoriated 99% of all design for being banal, mere decoration without a larger, brand building idea. Lois' tirade was blunt and laced with various versions of the word 'fuck.' Fuck, fucking, fucker, mother fucker and probably a few more variations on a theme.

This weekend my wife and I traveled to lower Manhattan to see the new 9/11 Memorial, a tribute to the fallen people and buildings on that horrible day. (I happen to think the best tribute, better than the Memorial itself, is the two-dozen or so construction cranes that battle for air-space building new towers around where the old ones were destroyed. Positive communities build. Negative ones tear down. New York is showing itself a positive city.)

The architecture of the memorial is like the good art direction and design that Lois mentions. It is meaningful, not just pretty. It has a message.

The memorial is located on the land where the Twin Towers formerly stood. There are two deep, black granite pools and fountains where the foundations of each Trade Center were, with a deep, "bottomless" square in the middle--where the elevator shafts sunk to. Water cascaded down the walls, filled the pool, then lapped into the bottomless center. Around each square are displays that list the names of the victims of the Pennsylvania crash, the Pentagon crash, the Trade Center crashes, and the 1993 terrorist attacks in the World Trade Center.

In all, it was a memorable and moving articulation, made even more effective, I think by the wind and rain of the day.

My one complaint is that the crush of getting in, long lines despite the tickets you had to procure on line, and the unusually nasty and chaotic security disrobing, destroyed what should be, to my mind, a quieter, more solemn viewing experience. Further, the "Museum Shop" was as crassly commercial and sentimental as a Nigerian vendor in mid-town.

In all though, visit. If you're from out of town or not, as we used to say on the Dunkin' Donuts account, "it's worth the trip."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lessons from "Lin-sanity."

As I reported in an earlier post about the New York Knicks' unlikely star point-guard, Jeremy Lin, his sensational story continues. Last night the Knicks won their fourth straight game, this time over the LA Lakers--a legitimately good team, with Lin scoring a whopping 38 points, four more than demi-god (and accused rapist) Kobe Bryant.

Lin has scored 89 points in his three games as a starter, more than the first three starting games of any NBA player in 30 years.

This morning on NPR there was, almost inevitably, there was a short piece on Lin and the Lin phenomenon. It included this insight by Lin himself.

"Most scouts assess a player in five minutes. If he's not incredibly fast, if he doesn't have 'mad hops,' he doesn't make the grade."

Lin's game is one, apparently, it takes time to appreciate. He sees the court well. He has wild basketball smarts (as you'd expect from a player from Harvard), he changes speeds and he is an adroit passer. None of these skill register instantaneously.

In our "I need it done yesterday world" we too often rush to snap judgments. We assess work, thinking, talent, insight, integrity and more in a flash.

We don't assess, we prejudge.

I have been in a hiring position, looking at portfolios since 1993. I have always looked at them the same way. I go through every page. The ones I don't like, I put aside. The ones I do like, I put aside and come back to 24-hours later and go through them again.

If Jeremy Lin--and thousands like Jeremy Lin--were evaluated properly, he wouldn't have been cut by two teams.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bad mood Friday.

It seems to me that many agencies today are more concerned with making decks than making ads. The amount of time spent "putting the deck together" dwarves most activities other than filling out timesheets.

Orson Welles wrote, starred in and directed "Citizen Kane" when he was 25 and 26.

I took a few minutes to put a deck together to sell the idea of "Citizen Kane" to studio execs.

Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks.

I'm not much of a sports fan but once in a while, the world of sport delivers a metaphor that it's interesting to explore.

About two weeks ago, the ever-struggling New York Knicks basketball team picked up a player called Jeremy Lin. Lin was an unusual, not particularly promising point guard. For one thing, he went to Harvard. Great basketball players don't usually go to Harvard. In fact, the NBA hadn't seen a Ivy Leaguer in their midst for nearly ten years. Secondly, Lin is an Asian-American. The book "Great Asian American Basketball Players" is even thinner than the volume titled "Great Jewish Jockeys." Finally, Lin had already been cut from two or three other squads. At best he was looked upon as a guy who would play about six or so minutes at the end of a game.

Instead, New York is gripped by something called "Lin-sanity." For the last three games, Lin has averaged over 20 points and seven assists. He has led the Knicks to three surprising victories and out-played some of the most heralded opponents in the league.

It remains to be seen if Lin is more than just a "flash in the wok."

But what's interesting to me is that he was almost passed over simply because he did not look or have the heritage he was supposed to have. He probably can't jump over a moving car and dunk a basketball with fury.

Nevertheless, Lin, for now is defying perceptions. Scoring points and surpassing expectations.

Sometimes things that don't look the way things are supposed to look do the things they're supposed to do.

In other words, sometimes reality trumps perception.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Advertising perjorative of the day.

"He's a few slides short of a presentation."

Uncle Slappy and the Schmendrik.

The phone rang last night at 10:20 and I knew right away it was Uncle Slappy and that something was wrong.

"Schmendrik," he began, without even saying hello, "An utter Schmendrik."

"Hello, Uncle Slappy," I answered, trying to put a lid on the pot that was boiling over. And then I, mistakenly uttered the sentence you should never say to an old Jewish person, and particularly not to Uncle Slappy.

"Is everything ok?"

"Is anything ok? You mean is anything in this whole fakhakteh globe not run-down, diseased, depraved, vulgar and disgusting."

"What happened? Did you get a hair in your soup at Ben's?" I tried joking him out of the rant I knew was about come, the deluge that was bursting over the walls of the dam.

"You remember Morty Wolff? Morty the Schmuck Wolff? You remember Morty the Schmuck Wolff died last year in flagrante delicto with a bowl of chopped liver? Well Sylvie and I did what we had to do. We went to his unveiling today."

(An unveiling is a ceremony that dedicates a grave monument erected for someone who passed away twelve months earlier.)

"Was it bad? I know how you love unveilings."

"Was it bad? Was it bad? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Was it bad? Let me tell you what it said on the Schmendrik's tombstone:

"Mortimer Frederick Wolff
Gentleman. Scholar. Athlete.

"First of all," Slappy was running now like a Kenyan marathoner, "First of all, Morty Wolff has never been, will never be, could never be a Mortimer any more than Sean Connery could be Jewish. He was the very definition of "Morty-ness." Not a real human being, a Morty."

"I understand," I answered, trying to give the old man a minute to breathe.

"Then there is his ferstunkeneh epithet.

"Gentleman. He's a gentleman like Madonna is a lady. He was always low, vulgar and gauche.

"Scholar, I'll give you. If you count being able to do the TV Guide crossword as scholarly. Give me a three-letter word for feline..."

"Oy," I added, sagaciously.

"And athlete. This is a man who never hit a tennis ball that didn't fall into the net. He cheated at shuffleboard."

Again, I interjected an "Oy."

"Here's the thing. There's very little in life or death--except life and death--that should be permanent. No one, no one, no one is smart enough to put something on themselves that is as permanent as a tombstone."

"You're right, Uncle Slappy. Right as usual."

"In other words, don't be a schmendrik. Don't write in indelible ink."

On death and dying.

The longer I work in advertising, the longer I believe that very few people in advertising love advertising.

I was brought up believing that the path to some sort of happiness of fulfillment lay in choosing a job or profession you loved. You, therefore, honestly enjoyed going in to work. You enjoyed the things you did at work and the people you did them with. As my first ECD said to me when he hired me, "I want this to be the kind of place where you work hard all day and then you go home and you're proud to tell your wife what you did."

Obviously I'm not naive enough to think for even a scintilla of a nano-second that you could possibly love your job every day. Most days, or many days anyway, you don't even love your loved ones. But you should, I've always believed, at least conceptually have love for what it is you do.

In agencies today it seems this notion is dead.

Not that people don't love what they do.

But what they do has nothing to do with advertising.

There are people who develop products. People who generate (or say they do) conversations. People who figure out how to make your cellphone more annoying than ever.

In short, it seems that about 90% of people within advertising agencies today are employed in pursuits that have little to do with advertising. They're embarrassed by the profession. They think, somehow, it's evil. Or outdated. Or...dead.

The real disconnect is that when people are exposed to advertising (that which is dead or passe or embarrassing) they enjoy it. It's been four days now and people are still talking about Clint Eastwood, Will Ferrell and a few other terrific spots.

I don't know what's happened. Why so few ad agencies love advertising.

But it all reminds me of the guy in the circus who cleans up after the elephants.

It's a shitty job but he doesn't want to leave show business.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Of late there have been a spate of asinine videos running around the web entitled "Sh*t _________ say." I suppose there have been so many they qualify as a meme. Though somehow humanity has existed for hundreds of thousands of years and never felt it necessary to use the word "meme" before, though now it's uttered every few paragraphs and, we'll quickly be assured by non-English speaking "creative technologists" that it is part of our taxonomy as if anyone really knows what a taxonomy is.

The real point about these Shit memes is that they are not funny. And by the time the inspiration hits you and you decide to post one to your mother-fucking Facebook wall, said memes are as moldy as week-old toast.

Meme, I'm convinced, is creative-technologist Newspeak for corny.

But in any event, I thought I'd come up with my own memette, a little meme, which I am calling "Shit No One in Advertising Ever Says."

We have too few meetings, please fill all my available time.

That planner's 48-minute ramble starting at 7:30 was clear, cogent and clarifying.

HR is so helpful. I'm going to call them more often.

The brief was exactly the right length.

Please continue, I love when people read aloud directly from Powerpoint.

Sure, I'd love to write some performance reviews this afternoon.

My favorite part of the job? Timesheets.

Man, that memo from the Holding Company's Chief Risk Officer was really informative.

Thank you for your valuable feedback. I'm looking forward to incorporating all 48 of your excruciating and picayune comments.

Project management really stepped up to the plate on this one.

That proofreader is such a balanced and stable person. I love working with her.

That person's more experienced than I am. I think I'll let them do the talking.


Thank you.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I think it's our fault.

In the wake of the Super Bowl a lot of friends, bloggers, blogging friends and friends of bloggers are decrying, as usual, the quality of spots that ran during the Bacchanal that pits one group of steroidal black men with no affiliation with a particular city against another similar group similarly unaffiliated, all led, of course, by a brainy white man, often one who is married to an international supermodel who has more breasts than brains.

What we are left with, when all the sound and fury calms is the assertion that Super Bowl spots suck because they appeal to the "lowest common denominator," though I for one think that any group called the lowest common denominator has no idea what lowest common denominator means.

I've often ruminated about what's happened in our nation to our collective intelligence. How is it possible to have "serious" presidential candidates who don't believe in evolution? How is it possible that our entire nation has no comprehension of American history? Is there lead in our collective pipes? Has our education "system" collapsed under its "systemhood"? (Should education even be a system?) Have we become so intellectually flaccid because we've been anesthetized because there's a flat screen every 33-inches in this country loudly blaring insipidities over and over until that's all we talk about?

I happen to think the dumbing down of everything is our fault. As an industry. We've bought into this notion that we have to appeal to our audience. That appealing to them is our measure of success regardless of what appeals to us--we never enter the equation. We're too busy thinking about what other people might like and we forget what we think is good.

Over the weekend I pulled a muscle in my left calf and I'm left fairly incapacitated. I can walk, navigate stairs, stand on the subway, but it all hurts like a sonofabitch. The good graces of my wife had me elevate my leg, rest it on an old ottoman (those Turks really come in handy now and again) and ice my appendage. I turned on Turner Classic Movies last night and caught 15 minutes of Jack Benny starring in Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 comedy "To Be or Not to Be."

I'm sure Lubitsch was told people wouldn't get things, that Jack Benny's delivery was too slow, that too many jokes became leitmotifs--that people would lose the thread.

He ignored the lowest common denominator. And so should we.

Create things that are smart.

You'll find your audience appreciates it.

Monday, February 6, 2012


As if I didn't recognize enough my estrangement from popular culture, the Super Bowl--its hype and its commercials left me feeling like a silent film star on a sound stage.

Some of the commercials weren't bad. But, really, 95% of them, if not more were advertising things I simply have no desire for. I can't remember the last time I munched a Dorito or an M&M, or craved a Coke or a Bud Light. Go Daddy means nothing to me, I master all the domains I need master and seems largely irrelevant--and the idea that the site will give me confidence seems extraordinarily spurious.

The Chevy grad spot was ok--but its impact was lessened in that it was released before the game. The same holds for the Chevy Sonic stunt spot, though I am as likely to buy a Chevy as I am to volunteer to campaign for Rick Santorum.

The Chrysler spot with Clint Eastwood stood out for me. It made me feel hopeful about Detroit's comeback, manufacturing's comeback. But barring a land war in China, I doubt manufacturing in the US will ever be more than a shell of what it was 50 years ago. The spot, sadly, was more about nostalgia than hope.

I guess at the end of the game--I am not a football fan and was bored almost to drooling-level after the first half, there wasn't one commercial that told me something I don't already know, or something that I regard as interesting. A heated steering wheel and vampire-killing halogens will not impel me to drop $60K or more on a car.

The game, I'm told, was a great one. A knuckle-gnawer. A nail-biter. Madonna was amazing...and she's 53! The commercials were fine. It's nice to see aging celebrities getting so much work.

The thing that struck me the most--and perhaps is the best example of my disconnect from the reality of the game--was the aerial coverage provided by, I think, Sirius radio. This coverage the announcers shilled every few minutes. And we got to see an antiseptic midwestern city at night with the Super Bowl trophy projected on a hotel with the JW Marriott logo on top.

Naturally aerial coverage of an indoor event made as much sense as having underwater cameras.

Nevertheless, something like 97 billion people watched last night. And I guess that counts for something.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Linguistic bullshit I can't stand.

Until about five years or so ago, the word transparency was reserved for descriptions of window glass and cellophane. Then, seemingly all at once, it became something we all had to be. Politicians had to be transparent. Companies. Creative directors. Agencies.

In all my years I have never once used the word transparent.

I prefer the word honest.

Honestly say what you are doing. Answer people honestly. Honestly reveal your practices.

Honest is a perfectly good word. A stronger word than transparent. In fact, Merriam-Webster recognizes transparency meaning "characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices" as their sixth definition for the word.

I honestly think the word transparency has emerged on the scene because it is a weaker word than honest. It is yet more evidence of the namby-pampyization of our language.

After all, if you're not transparent, people say you're not transparent or opaque.

They don't, therefore, call a spade a spade.

If you're not honest, you're a liar. Liar is again a stronger word.

It's much worse to be considered a liar than to be considered opaque.


I didn't grow up in a shtetl in the old country, but my grandmother Ida did and I guess she never truly left the Pale of Settlement. Her apartment, which she shared with another old woman, presumably someone else's aged grandmother, was on the second floor of a row house in the west side of Philadelphia, a poor neighborhood then, a desperate one today. She kept it dark, dark as the shtetl, or at least it seemed that way to me, who was used to the Kodacolor of the suburbs. That there was nothing in Ida's apartment that was newer than 25 years old added to the shtetl-ness of her rooms. Everything was old, threadbare--black and white, almost.

My grandmother did have a small, old RCA Victor television. The set itself was large though the picture tube was probably about six inches high and nine across. TV being new-fangled she had a hard time fathoming the notion of reruns. When it came to game shows, Ida wondered, why didn't people watch the original broadcast from earlier on. That way they would know all the answers.

My grandmother drank sweet Russian tea in a tall glass that was placed a brass cup holder. It was sweeter than any candy bar--sugared to the point where the tea was almost, it seemed, viscous. A single glass would last her at least a couple hours, usually about the length of one of our visits.

My grandmother spoke little English, speaking predominately Yiddish to my parents and saying little to me other than "Would Georgie like a cookie?" Like most children I would say "yes" enthusiastically and she would hand me two Ritz crackers on an old china plate, her version of cookies.

Then we would sit in the mid-day twilight, eat slowly the crackers and listen to rapid-fire Yiddish until it was time again for us to drive the 90 miles back from the shtetl to America.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Doing what it takes. Whatever it takes.

There's a terrific obituary in today's "New York Times" of the great boxing trainer and cornerman Angelo Dundee. Dundee guided Cassius Clay--who later became Muhammad Ali--to his championship over Sonny Liston. He also trained Carmen Basilio to his welterweight and middleweight titles, and Sugar Ray Leonard to his welterweight championship. He also trained champions Jimmy Ellis, Willie Pastrano, Luis Rodriguez and George Foreman. You can read the obituary here:

One thing that marked Dundee's success was his ability to think on his feet. The obit reports: "When Ali sought to regain his senses after being knocked down by Henry Cooper in the fourth round of their June 1963 bout, Dundee stuck his finger in a small slit that had opened in one of Ali’s gloves, making the damage worse. Then he brought the badly damaged glove to the referee’s attention. Dundee was told that a substitute glove wasn’t available, and the few seconds of delay helped Clay recover. He knocked Cooper out in the fifth round."

Another reason behind Dundee's triumphs was his ability to "read a room." "In the hours before Ali fought Foreman in Zaire in 1974 — the Rumble in the Jungle — Dundee noticed that the ring ropes were sagging in the high humidity. He used a razor blade to cut and refit them so they were tight, enabling Ali to bounce off them when Foreman unleashed his “anywhere” punches from all angles. Ali wore Foreman out, hanging back with the “rope a dope” strategy Ali undertook on his own, and he went on to win the bout."

Thinking on your feet, reading the room, and being smart enough to do whatever it takes is what it takes to succeed in brutal businesses.

Like boxing.

And advertising.

20,000 brises.

There's a slight article in today's "New York Times" about a man named Philip L. Sherman, a mohel (a practitioner of ritual Jewish circumcision) who since 1978 has performed over 20,000 circumcisions. You can read the article here:

As I head out this morning to yet another client meeting--I average, counting conference calls, probably ten a week--I think about performing 20,000 of anything. No, I haven't attended 20,000 client meetings. It just feels that way.

Nevertheless, I think there's something to be learned from Mr. Sherman.

Come prepared.

Don't kibbitz too much.

Cut fast and clean.

Shake hands.

Get the fuck out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Years ago, and at a very young age, I worked on a new business pitch of some magnitude and was selected to present the work to the client. I flew out to Indianapolis with my boss, the eponymous co-owner of the agency, and a senior account person.

While on the plane I began writing in a notebook notes to myself that would explain what I wanted to say. I put enough thought into this as to keep my notes short and bulleted. The account guy saw me writing and when we got into the rental car he asked me what I had been doing.

Collecting my thoughts, I answered.

He said, I've never seen a creative do that before.

Today we live in an era in which we employ Weapons of Mass Deckstruction.

Every little movement in something as important as new business seems to be scripted and choreographed and rehearsed.

We lay on page after page of powerpoint.

We positively swill in our own importance.

Me, personally, I still prefer a few sentences typed out--not late at night, not during the heat of the moment--that tell the story.

Rejection continued.

I wrote a few days ago about a poet, editor, playwright named George Hitchcock who gained some notoriety through his poetry magazine "Kayak." The sources of his fame were two-fold. One, he published some of the leading poets of the second half of the 20th Century and two, he rejected poetry submissions with a wit and bite that is rare in these days of politesse.

I ordered last week and it arrived last night a book on Hitchcock that included a passel of his rejections. They're dark, most of them, but somehow brightened my lousy mood.